March 23, 2014 Updated: March 24, 2014 at 7:27 am
Sometimes a dress is more than a dress.
Kelly Cays waited four months for her custom-made wedding gown to arrive at Danelle's Bridal Boutique, the Colorado Springs shop where she'd picked out the design. It was full-length ivory and lace, with delicate flowers and beading at the sweetheart bodice and a row of tiny buttons down the back. It reminded Cays of the gown her grandmother had worn at her own wedding in the 1940s.
"That's a huge reason I picked that dress," said Cays, 22, whose grandmother died suddenly about a month after she ordered the gown in November.
The $1,800 design was a gift from Cays' twin aunts, who live in New York. Cays and her fiance, Zach Rose, would have opted for something far more modest if they'd had to bankroll it on their own. When Cays picked up the dress March 13, she made sure it was well-obscured within a garment bag before laying it on the back seat of her red 2006 Jeep Liberty. She and her 24-year-old fiance were going grocery shopping later, and she didn't want him to see it.
Around 8 o'clock, the couple returned home to the apartment they share in a complex off South 8th Street in Colorado Springs. The prime parking spots usually are taken so Cays is accustomed to trolling for a vacancy, often ending up around the far side of the building. On this night, though, there was an empty spot up front.
"I thought this is great, it's so close. We don't have to walk so far with groceries," Cays said.
As they unloaded, she debated taking the dress inside, but ultimately decided to leave it in the car. She planned to wake early and transport the gown to her mom's house for safekeeping until the June wedding. The lot was well-lit, the Jeep close to the door and, with the garment bag spread out across the back seat, the vehicle looked empty.
Still, Cays had to stifle a twinge of misgiving.
"I never leave anything in my car so I was a little nervous, but I figured, 'Oh, I'm sure it'll be OK,'" Cays said. "I feel so stupid now that I didn't take it with me."
Rose got the call not long after he arrived at work Friday morning. Cays was crying and sounded frantic.
"Did you move my car? Did you use it?"
Rose said no.
"Well, it's gone," Cays said. "The car, the dress, it's all gone."
Rose and Cays grew up in the Springs, attending rival high schools, sharing friends and hangouts but not a proper introduction until four years ago, at a party hosted by mutual friends.
"We've been inseparable since," Rose said. "Two weeks after we met, she moved in."
Rose pulled off an elaborate surprise proposal at last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade, riding in on a 1917 fire truck, pulling Cays from the crowd and then dropping to one knee to propose before friends, family and green-clad strangers. Soon after, the couple began planning the wedding, which will be held at Shining Mountain Golf Club in Woodland Park.
"It's a big wedding. We have a ton of family coming in from New York, brother from New Jersey, family from Arizona," Cays said. "It's probably going to be around 120 to 130 people. We're super excited about it."
To save money, Cays set about hand-making what she could - place cards, decorative centerpieces, boutineers for the guys and gifts for her bridesmaids.
"I've definitely made it so we can cut a lot of corners spending-wise," said Cays, who works at Yarid's Shoe Store at The Broadmoor. "I've been doing everything I can, coming home at night and working for an hour. That's definitely helped us out with savings.
"I was just saying last week, the day before this all happened, 'Oh, I will have my wedding dress tomorrow, all the planning's going so perfect.' And now this."
When the couple reported the theft, they were told by police that if the car wasn't recovered over the weekend, the odds of it being found - at all, and in one piece - plummeted. As of Friday, still no car and no dress, Rose said.
"Normally, I'm a super positive person, but I've been all over the place, crying randomly all weekend," Cays said. "I pulled up another dress online just to try to find something cheaper that I could get really quickly, and that just made me cry."
With all the other wedding expenses, the couple can't afford a new gown as nice as the one that was stolen. Cays' auto insurance didn't cover the loss, and the couple doesn't have renter's insurance, which would have reimbursed at least part of the value. Credit card insurance might be another recourse, but that's iffy since the purchase was made so long ago.
Now, Rose said the focus is on moving forward.
"You have to learn to accept the things you can't control. What else are you going to do?" he said. "If anything, I think it's showing how strong me and Kelly are as a couple."
Cays is quick and unwavering with her response when friends ask if she plans to postpone the wedding.
"I tell them, 'Oh, no.' The day is still going to happen, we put so much into it, and I just want to be with him," Cays said. "I just want to marry him that day. I could go to Ross and get a dress if I have to."
Sometimes a dress is just a dress.